the Journey

  • Distance to go: 0 Mi

    Ben and Tarka will cover 1800 miles starting from Scott's Terra Nova Hut at the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back to the coast again. That's equivalent to 69 back-to-back marathons hauling up to 200kg each (the weight of roughly two adult men) of kit and supplies necessary to survive.

    Distances here are shown in statute miles.

On Our Way Home

I'm typing this from a folding camp chair where I'm sat with my feet up by the stove, in a heated Weatherhaven tent, a few hundred metres from the snow runway at Union Glacier, a small base that's established each year by ALE on the Chilean side of Antarctica to support tourists and private expeditions.

We arrived here in the early hours of yesterday after a six-and-a-half hour flight on the same Basler ski plane that dropped us off on McMurdo Sound's sea ice last October, a journey that left Tarka and I excited about being a huge leap closer to home, but utterly confused about what time (or even day) it is, as Union Glacier operates on Chilean time, 14 hours behind New Zealand, the time zone we'd switched to when we reached Ross Island last week. We're the last expedition left in Antarctica this season, and there's a skeleton staff left at Union Glacier who'll fly out with us as soon as the weather's good enough for the big Ilyushin transport aircraft to get in from Punta Arenas.

The good news as far as Tarka and I are concerned is that one of this small gang of nine is a fabulous Norwegian chef who, in the 16 hours since we landed, has rustled up a selection of goodies that has included bacon and eggs, huge salads, rice pudding, giant burritos, home-made chocolate brownies, risotto, chicken wrapped in bacon, roast pumpkin and sweet potato, smoked salmon and cream cheese, raspberry smoothies and slices of fresh orange. I'm also happy to report that devouring this amount of non-freeze-dried food has had no ill effects beyond the discomfort of stuffing ourselves until we're entirely full at each meal.

The Basler's crew are here with us too, grounded until the weather releases its hold and they can leave Antarctica for their long flight north to their next job in Arctic Canada(!) an odyssey that entails six days of continuous flying over the Americas with stop-offs as improbable and exotic as the Cayman Islands. Jim Haffey, the pilot, is deeply respected in this small community, and his modest nature means it's taken a while to persuade him to regale us with tales from a career that spans tens of thousands of flying hours. His clear blue eyes sparkle with joy and the creases around his eyes deepen in smile as he talks about the practice of "tickling" a snow runway with the aircraft's skis. His three-man Canadian crew are dressed in heavy, insulated Carhartt jeans, fuel-stained hoodies and battered baseball caps; their faces bearded and weathered after their long season's work here. They nod appreciatively over cans of Chilean Polar Imperial beer as we coax stories from their Captain.

As for our story, the memories of more than a hundred days on the ice have become strangely blurred for both Tarka and me now we're back in relative civilisation; so many hard, hard days condensed to a single super-memory of whiteouts, sticky surfaces, sledges that never seemed to become lighter, rumbling stomachs, homesickness, sleep deprivation, deep fatigue and a land with a scale that defies comprehension and description. A scale that threatened at times to crush our spirits and to utterly exhaust our bodies, yet a scale that also left an impression on us that will stay for the rest of our lives. Emotionally I'm still feeling numbed by the whole thing. I'd expected to be skiing the last few hundred metres on to Ross Island in tears, but they never came, and I think it'll take a while for our all-consuming tiredness to lift, and for the immensity of what we managed to do to start sinking in.

The latest forecast predicts a brief window in the cloud tomorrow (or even today, by the time you read this) and therefore a sliver of hope that we'll soon be back in Punta Arenas.


# Mal Owen, February 13th 2014

It sounds like the scrumptious food you’ve consumed will already have added a few of those lost pounds. I’m sure the memory’s finer details will return when you have had time to adjust…..self preservation kicks in and closes down the bits of the mind that are surplus to requirement, bringing them forth when all is calm again. As far as the tears go, your worldwide audience certainly shed them for you as you crossed the line.
Now you’re on your way to Punta Arenas tonight and soon on the last leg to the UK .... No real need for me to say enjoy your return… I’m sure you will. As always your storytelling makes for an excellent read and I very much look forward to the next instalment.

# Dave, February 13th 2014

Just saw the post that Tarka and Ben have landed in Punta Arenas and headed straight to the hotel to sleep, in real beds in their own rooms.  Brief hibernation, perhaps?

# Ariane, February 13th 2014

Such beautiful writing about forgetting. This too is part of the story.

# P. Casey, February 14th 2014

It’s been a week since I and many others avidly tracked the last few miles of your historic trek.
Following your journey has been an educational and joyful distraction from the long dark evenings and wettest winter on record here in the UK.
I would imagine the enormity of what you both have achieved will finally sink in once you’ve been home for a few days, recharged and had time to reflect on the past four months.
This planet we all live on is an miraculous place and life itself is a journey for us all.
But what you’ve done is something out of the ordinary that very few people will ever experience.
I bid you a safe return home to the lower latitudes and significantly warmer (unfortunately not drier) part of the world
Thanks again for sharing your adventure.

# mikef, February 14th 2014

To say that I have enjoyed each and every one of your posts would be an understatement. What a wonderful, wonderful story you have let us all in on. Thank you and I’m happy to your journey ended with you both safe! It’s been a real pleasure and I shall miss tuning in each day greatly.

# Susan from Michigan, February 15th 2014

Congratulations, again, on completing your journey!! You have made such an impression on all of us. When I get up for work I still want to go to my computer to read what you are doing and then realize that you are back and feel a kind of emptiness in my day. I hope you will continue writing something for us to read. You are both such a big part of our lives. Thank you for allowing us to follow along with you as you made history. I hope you will write a book with lots of pictures so we can relive the journey again. I wish you both the best of luck and please keep the blog going!!!

# Colin Buckley, February 16th 2014

When can I buy you both a Pint of GREAT BRITISH Ale?

# Brenda, February 17th 2014

A tribute to my son
My little boy who grew into a man with such an amazing dream, a huge ambition – something I could only imagine but he would make become real. 
For over 10 years he worked tirelessly, endlessly, relentlessly on the research, the training, the emails, the training,  the talks, the training, the poverty, the training, the promises which didn’t quite come to fruition, the training, the negotiations, the training, the knocks, the training, the set-backs, the training, the rejections, the training, the elations, the rigid training to get his mind and body to the platform to launch his dream, this expedition. 
And now it’s no longer a dream.  It is realty. Ben has made history.
The last four months have been some of the most stressful in my life but I have been buoyed by Ben’s strength and tenacity, by the love and support of my family and friends and the acknowledgement Ben has received from all over the world – yes, you lot! And from his sponsors who believed in him enough to enable him to carry out this amazing journey.
My thanks (it seems such an inadequate word) go to all of those involved in this expedition.  Gratitude goes especially to Tarka – the best possible compliment to Ben and without whom it seems this journey would have been impossible, and to Ben’s team in the UK, particularly Andy who has been such a rock for me in times of most anxiety.
Ben is about to come home and I cannot wait to see him.  I am the proudest Mum in the world right now.
My son is an inspiration to so many, including me.  He has demonstrated so vividly that if you want to achieve something and you are passionate about it, you can overcome all obstacles in your way and just do it!
Thank you Ben.

# CaninesCashews, February 17th 2014

Hi Brenda,

You must be absolutely fit to burst with pride for your son, what an amazing achievement after such a long time working toward this epic adventure.

I’m a father, and I cannot begin to imagine how you have faring with Ben out on that vast continent these last few months. I hope knowing he was not alone, both on the ice and with his support team back home helped, but unfortunately a part of a mothers lot in life is to worry about their child no matter how much support they have. So well done to you for coping for all this time.

I am so pleased for Ben that he has finally managed to realise his dream and finish that epic journey started so long ago. I hope he manages to have some down time between speaking engagements, sponsor commitments and writing his book (or is that Ben’s idea of down time!).

I met Ben in 2008 at an International Scout Camp in Kent after I invited him along. He offered to come and speak to the people who had travelled from all over the world, and that day I witnessed him inspiring young (and the not so young) people first hand. I am still in contact with some of the audience from that day and even now all these years later they still talk about Ben, and his influence on their lives.

Oh and one more thing, as I said to Thea on the blog a few days ago – please remember, us sons are what our mother made us.

You deserve to feel very proud.

Best regards

# Dave, February 17th 2014

Absolutely lovely, Brenda.  Thank you for sharing your Ben with us.  With the world.  And for encouraging him to follow his dreams.

Gav, I imagine Ben and Tarka will both be in demand as speakers.  I would love to have him come to my children’s school, or anywhere locally.  Everyone could use some inspiration, and I can’t imagine a more inspirational story.

Looking forward very much to hearing more from Ben and Tarka soon.

# Intrepid, February 17th 2014

Dear Brenda,

((( HUGS ))))

I assume both men will be walking off the plane together—- so, here’s to that moment you let flow gratitude in your eye to eye thank you’s and the wrap of your arms around Tarka, and to all the cascading feelings-full moment in the heart to heart reunion with all of your love for your son, Ben. I’m sure Ben is looking forward to hugging his mum too!!!!

I imagine Ben’s tenacity, resilience, fortitude, and gracefulness hasn’t materialized out of thin air. In appreciation of you for being the mother you are,

With Abandon,



# Mal Owen, February 18th 2014

@ Brenda
I feel very privileged to have been able to share a piece of history in the making, thanks to your son’s 10 years of determined effort. Being a mother of two myself, I can understand how stressful it must be for you as you stand by supporting and watching him fulfil his dreams. The immense relief and pride you must have felt as Ben and Tarka crossed the line is hard for me to imagine.As I said in my message to Thea, you can now recover from your ’ Worst Journey’. Enjoy your hugs and celebrations, you most certainly deserve them.
Regards Mal

# Intrepid, March 6th 2014

This is written a few weeks later. I took a look at the words I used to describe Ben and Tarka, and discovered the one word I left out.

TENACITY is the hard work which gets you onto your path. Obstacles are going to arise which could ‘bring you down’.  RESILIENCE is what gets you back up, brushes off the fall, and keeps you going. Every bout of resilience has the capacity to completely drain you. ENDURANCE is the voice which brings you through to the other side. The voice of ENDURANCE repeats, “This is worth it, and no matter what, I won’t give up…(ever).” So that’s how ... slogging 1795 miles in countless whiteouts, exceedingly frigid temperatures, being totally exhausted one day after the next, eating the same food over and over, continually losing weight, experiencing all the ups and downs internally and externally… Ben and Tarka made The Scott Expedition happen through their ENDURANCE!!

BRAVO Ben and Tarka!!

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